Arroyo before ASEAN business

 

By Rose de la Cruz

 

The Association of Southeast Asian nations was born 50 years ago because of security concerns that led 5 foreign ministers to found it. But not one of them imagined that the group would grow into an economic community today.

 

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in keynoting the final day of the ASEAN Business & Investment Summit at Solaire who was asked to speak on her retrospection and projection of ASEAN 50 years hence, said ASEAN now is a peaceful, cohesive bloc that wants to achieve prosperity for all.

 

She added that China 50 years ago was a sleeping economic giant but is now the second largest economy in the world, which was hard to imagine then. “The sleeping dragon was beginning to wake up 35 years ago and its neighbors in the region thought that China would become their competitor. No one predicted that China would be a class on its own. Today China is not a business competitor but a collaborator, a donor and a market.”

 

Looking at ASEAN 35 years ago, it was beginning to evolve from an obscure regional grouping  into one that would be associated with success because the individual ASEAN economies were growing fast although that really didn’t have much to do with ASEAN activities as a whole. “

 

It became influential 35 years ago by trying, as a whole, to find a solution in the 1980s to the Cambodian conflict then when Pol Pot, its leader, was overthrown (when Cambodia was not yet a part of the group but ASEAN every year, in the UN, campaigned for a seat for Kampuchea or Cambodia now). But ASEAN was not then successful in the final resolution of the conflict, which came about only in 1991.

 

Back in the eighties, she said, nobody predicted that China would be a powerhouse and no one also predicted that ASEAN would be a zone of peace and an economic community. It has drawn these nations closer together from trade, diplomacy, cultural exchange and greater connectivity.

 

“We are a diverse multi-racial, multi religious region with different levels of social economic developments, with different regions that resisted the temptation to drift apart, instead we moved to cooperation and unity, and so formed the economic community,” she stressed.

 

IT, AI will drive ASEAN

 

In the coming 50 years, we see increasing prosperity driven by technology and artificial intelligence and yet we also see the possibility of still greater income disparity.

 

She said “we see a more peaceful world overall but we also see more nations with nuclear capability and there will be still be attempts at terrorism. We see a clearer environment at same time global warming will continue affect government policies, economic problems and our lives themselves.”

 

She recalled the dinner she recently hosted for the Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi where the Cambodian leader said she sees 50 years from now that ASEAN would have succeeded in narrowing the development gap within nations and that is a great achievement.

 

Income disparity to continue

But Mrs. Arroyo said she opined that even in narrowing the development gap, 50 years from now, within nations there might still be greater income disparity (“which constitutes the paradox challenge for both development and globalization”), which might harbor extremism, isolationism and violence.

 

She led the audience to look at ASEAN 2025, " when the communities will be highly integrated and cohesive with enhanced connectivity and central cooperation, with a more people-oriented community integrated with the global community. That year is when full integration is projected to take place,” she said.

 

“If we achieve our vision in 8 years, we have a strong chance of being a global force in 50 years, if not we can have an uphill battle.

 

Embrace integration

 

She said it is better for all ASEAN members to embrace regional integration by providing safety nets and differential treatment for the disadvantaged sectors of the different states. But everyone must strive to embrace efficiency through better infrastructure, economic governance that includes strong, efficient and consistent monetary stability and political stability.

 

Regional integration benefits those that have efficient production, marketing and governance, those who are able to use information technology efficiently and with bias against those who are less efficient in governance, production and the use of technology, she said.

 

Efficient infrastructure is both physical and digital and is a must for all nations and for ASEAN as a whole.  ASEAN has a connectivity plan to facilitate the transfer of goods and people across the region that require infrastructure financing and where do we get that but through foreign exchange assets in the trillion dollars so we need to mobilize that for infrastructure and connectivity.

 

Modernize agriculture

 

Within ASEAN rice exporters, competition is so great such that to reduce income disparities countries like the Philippines needs to modernize agriculture with equities.

 

China stands out in agricultural production and exports because it has the great Mekong River while other countries in Asia have to invest more in irrigation, credit, education, use of technology.

 

She said land reform is good but must be accompanied by reforms to ensure that farmlands can be used as collateral so farmers can get into the formal financial system.

 

She also pushed for financial technology so that farmers and consumers can transact using the digital technology and for developing and modernizing every sector, including agriculture

 

She said agriculture must get into more processing to have complementation and process agricultural products and achieve complementarity in ASEAN. SMEs can thrive, rather wither, in financial integration.

 

She said NGOs like Go Negosyo can help their small brothers or the MSMEs by introducing them to financial technology so they can become strong.

 

Full integration

 

She urged ASEAN to embrace full regional integration by breaking down non- tariff barriers and strive for harmonization of their procedures for complete connectivity physically, socially and in terms of human capital.

 

Implement regional agreements also in bringing down barriers on labor. Unless we do so, in 50 years we will be in a position to use our global leadership to reduce income disparity, tourism and mitigating climate change, correct income disparity, create  more jobs (not kill them) and provide greater opportunity for foreign investments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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